Chess, Chivalry, and Story: The Beginning of the Hero’s Journey

By Beto Carmona

parsifal-in-quest-of-the-holy-grail-ferdinand-leekeSome of the sweetest joys of being a teacher are those moments when the books are set aside, the pencils are put down, and everyone in class delves deep into a good, captivating conversation spurred by a topic brought up in class. At Western Academy, we, students and teachers, are free to be leisurely, just because it is good to be so. Without sacrificing high standards for our boys, we let the boys experience what Aristotle meant when he said, “We work in order to have leisure” (Pieper 20). To this noble end, this year our barefooted boys are rediscovering an innate, joyful and angelic love of learning through a focus on leisure in the Chess, Chivalry, and Story (CSS) class, where the boys are instructed in the high art of The Dangerous Book for Boys to equip them for the hero’s journey of life.

To nurture an angelic culture of leisure amongst our very physical boys, this year at Western Academy we opened a time slot during the week for the CSS class. Folks, not acquainted with the spirit of the school, might wonder what sort of class this is and, by extension, what sort of school Western Academy is. What in the world are students doing in a class denominated CSS? Well, we are “being leisurely” by sharing stories, playing chess and other games, conversing about heroes and battles, and learning an assortment of time-tested manly skills. In short, we are initiating the boys in the high art of the Dangerous Book for Boys. Now, to the modern world, the idea of leisure and of learning for the fun it, free from the constraint of drills, worksheets and assessments, is antithetical to the idea of serious and rigorous schoolwork. But, why should all learning be work and no fun? Can’t we humans just know without the need of discursive reasoning and simply receive knowledge like the angels?

Unknown-1In CSS, we recognize that the life of man is lived in two spheres, the physical and the angelic, or spiritual, and attempt to address both together through a culture of leisure that takes into account man’s dual nature. On the one hand, man shares the life of the angels, by being a spirit, capable of knowing and willing; on the other hand, man shares the life of the animals, having a body with senses through which he can know the world around him. Through the course material for CSS, derived from The Dangerous Book for Boys, it is our sincere hope and desire to habituate the boys to a culture of leisure that will elevate their souls, fire their hearts and minds, and train their bodies for the excellence God intends for them. We want the boys to be knights for the true, good, and the beautiful wherever life leads them on their hero’s journey.

At Western Academy we recognize and accept the important truth of man’s physical and spiritual reality and have designed the CSS class, along with all the other liberal arts and festival days, to form the boys well in the way of and men alive. We believe that in fact we can be “like the angels” when they live a life of leisure. The boys get the opportunity to participate in what one day will be their eternal activity when they reach the final destination of their hero’s journey, heaven, where they will contemplate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Itself in an eternal moment of leisure. CSS is the first step along this quest to excellence, grace, and happiness.

Pieper, J., Leisure the Basis of Culture, 1952.

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